Perspectives: Bill Bowen, UPS
Written by Bill Bowen   
Some of you have inquired about my aviation background and the steps I took to get where I'm at. Like many of you, I wanted to fly ever since I was a kid. I remember when I was about 7 years old, the Captain of a Pan Am 707 I was on asked me if I wanted to come up front and take a look at all the dials and switches. I had been driving my mother, and everyone else, crazy crying over something trivial and we were at the gate on a multi-leg trip overseas (my father was in the Air Force at the time). To this day I still remember walking into the cockpit and just being utterly mesmerized by all those "clocks" everywhere! That did it for me. I had to be a part of whatever made this thing work. From then on my mother said all I talked about was being an airline pilot.

I built model airplanes, hung out at airports and read everything I could get my hands on about airplanes and flying in general. My goal, what I considered at the time the ultimate flying job, Airline Captain for a major airline and nothing was going to deter me from achieving that goal. Luckily, I was young, very naive and clueless so all the future hard work and odds against me meant nothing. Nobody in my family was a pilot and I really had no idea how to achieve my goal.

When I was 16 and a budding "C" average student in school (brother was a straight "A" student and future doctor), my father, frustrated by this time with my school performance, said he'd take me down to the local FBO and sign me up for lessons if I'd come home with good grades. He knew how to push my buttons and it worked. I went to school with a renewed incentive to do better and my father kept his word. To this day I still don't know where he came up with the money!

Chautauqua Airlines Metroliner

UPS 727-100

UPS 757-200PF

UPS Airbus 300-600

Anyway, I had found my niche in life. I soloed in 5 hours at 16, private at 17 followed by all the other ratings including CFI by age 19. I worked as a CFI and fuel distribution and quality control line supervisor (lineboy) at the same FBO. I delivered airplanes for our very active aircraft salesman which gave me a lot of experience in different types of GA aircraft. I built up enough time to begin flying a UPS freight run contracted to the FBO I worked for in a beat up old Aero Commander 680. I did that my senior year in college. Go to school, flight instruct, sleep a couple hours and fly freight at night.

After college, I was briefly hired by a commuter airline named "Air Illinois" at age 21 as an f/o on the twin otter. I made it all the way to beginning IOE when the FAA shut them down after an accident involving their Hawker Sidley in Carbondale, Ill one stormy night.

I went back to CFI'ing after that dismal start to my big airline career until being hired by Chautauqua airlines (USAir commuter) a short time later in early 1984. Back then they were a small airline out of Jamestown New York flying BE99's, Shorts 330's and brand new SA227's (Metro III's). I started out in the right seat of the BE99 and a couple months later moved to the right seat of the SA227. Flying 90-100hrs a month in the NE US weather patterns without the aid of an autopilot or flight director was a great learning experience. Hand flying ILS's to mins in all kinds of weather became routine and almost boring. I had just turned 24 when I made Captain on the SA227 flying out of ROA, LYH, CHO, HGR, PIT and Jamestown, NY.

I knew no one at the majors and without someone on the inside I couldn't get my foot in the door and only received letters stating they had received my resume yada, yada. I remember picking up a Aviation Weekly and reading and seeing a picture about UPS ordering brand new B757's for one of their contract carriers, Ryan. The article talked about what a money powerhouse big brown was and I began to think maybe this would be the way to go with my career. I was looking for stability and expansion opportunities with a well known solid company and UPS fit the bill.

By this time I had seen enough of the up and down side of pax flying and had also heard all the whining I cared to from the self loading freight in the back. Admittedly, looking back, I can understand some of the passenger's gripes. Captain who looks like he's still in high school (got that one a lot!), small, loud turboprop, nasty weather, etc. I thought I was good enough to be there and was proud of my abilities which came from a lot of hard work and being somewhat of a perfectionist in my craft.

Along came 1987 and I was beginning to think I had reached the pinnacle of my career at 25 since it seemed that everyone was getting an interview with a major but me. I did notice that most of the people getting interviewed and hired knew someone at the company. I knew nobody and began to resign myself to a career at the commuters and the highest time Metro driver in history. My attitude changed as I could see my ultimate goal slip away. I was about to turn 26 and believe it or not was already burned out on flying. I laugh when I think about that now. I knew I was good enough to move up and just wanted someone to give me a chance.

I jumpseated on a mainline USAir DC9 flight one day with a crusty old Captain who listening to my plight before giving me a great pep talk. He basically told me not to give up and just hang in there a while longer. I did and several months later I got a call from AA. I didn't make it past the first of three interviews. That was a blessing in disguise as UPS called soon after in early 1988 and wanted to interview me. I couldn't believe it! This was the company I really wanted to work for and they were calling me! They told me they were basically starting up their own airline and were hiring 800+ pilots that year. They needed to fill all three seats and quickly!

The ironic thing was...I had never been in a simulator in my life and had a grand total of "0" hours of pure jet experience when UPS called me for an interview. I did have about 6000 total time with about 4000 hand-flown turboprop time. They put me in the right seat of a B727 sim for the interview. I look back and wonder how I ever maintained any type of composure while flying this big jet simulator since I had never been in one before. I believe the only thing that I had going for me was my recency of instrument flying on a daily basis and confidence in myself that I could do the job if given a chance.

The phone rang about 3 weeks later in early March 1988 and it was UPS offering me a job as a FE on the B727. The FE rating was difficult for me I won't lie (I was a pilot, not a mechanic), but a lot of people helped me out and got me through. Things were moving fast at UPS and upgrades came quickly. I soon found myself in class again in early 1989 to become an f/o on the B727. After flying a few trips as an B727 f/o I was awarded an f/o position on one of our new B757 in 1989. I had flashbacks of that day when I read the article in Aviation Week about UPS being the launch customer for the new 757 freighter and now I would be flying them.

I was an f/o on the B757 until 1994 when I realized a dream that began when I was 7 years old. I was at the ripe old age of 32 and I was just awarded a Captain's bid on the B757. I was comfortable in the airplane by that time and also was asked to become a simulator instructor. Life was good and I enjoyed my work teaching the Atari Ferrari. UPS then ordered B767-300ER's. I actually got to pick one up from the Boeing factory right after the acceptance flight. It smelled like a new car inside. The B75/76 are great airplanes and are two of my favorite to this day.

In 2000 I was awarded a Capt's position on the new A300-600's UPS had ordered. I was looking for a new challenge after 10+ years on 75/76 fleet. I was asked to be a simulator instructor on that A300 fleet. They preferred people with previous instructor experience since this was going to be an aggressive program from the word go. Some of the people who put the new program were my friends and I wanted to help. I flew the first airplane we received up to Baltimore (again new car smell!). I was an IOE instructor on the Airbus for a while but have decided to sit back and relax for awhile.

Having just turned 40 this year, I'm looking forward to hopefully many more healthy years flying the brown jets. I'm debating whether to bid the MD11 or just sit tight as a bus driver. We'll see.....

Bill Bowen,
United Parcel Service